Thursday, 22 December 2016

A seasonal miscellany of links

Here is a set of links - one for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas - some of which I have struggled to fit into seasonal clothing.

1. Is Stay Another Day a Christmas song? (No painful contortions required for that one.)

2. 'Tis the season to be jolly. And what could be jollier than a compilation of newspaper corrections?

3. When will your Christmas 'turkey' become a vegetarian substance? Sooner than you think?

4. Those Wise Men from the East are very good at disappearing.

5. This is a prize-winning Chinese science fiction story. Perfect for whiling away a long winter's evening.

6. Did King Herod violate anyone's safe space?

7. Would Mary have said yes to the Angel Gabriel if Joseph had been in the room at the time? I ask because unmarried women hide their ambition from men, perhaps to appear more attractive. (More interestingly, do married women not bother appearing attractive? or do they realise that men like ambitious women? or are they self-selecting in some way - e.g. do men who like ambitious women get married earlier, leaving other women increasingly presenting themselves as unambitious to attract the remaining men? or are the unmarried women trying to compensate for some other factor? So many questions here.)

8. It's the time for giving, so think about giving to charity shops. And think more.

9. Yule have spotted that a year is a very long time in politics.

10. Hip-hop Nutcracker.

11. Christmas is for everyone: "...I claimed the moniker “atheist” to stand in solidarity with Bangladeshi bloggers at a time when their lives were being threatened (as they still are). It may not have been the most politically savvy thing for a minister in a Christian church to do ...". (That bit tells you all you need to know about that link.)

12. And, finally, Phoebe Waller-Bridge experiences the Twelve Days of Christmas. (Not her finest effort, I'm afraid, but definitely seasonal.)


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Brexit means ...

Have I ever linked to the Huffington Post before? There's a first time for everything and this may be one first time.

It seems that the British Council commissioned survey of 40,000 people in G20 countries. The EU ones see Brexit quite differently from the non-EU ones.

"When questioned on ‘overall attractiveness’, 36 per cent of people in EU countries said Brexit had a negative impact - compared to 17 per cent who said positive.

However, in Commonwealth nations 33 per cent saw Brexit as having a positive impact compared to 20 per cent who had negative.

In the rest of the G20 (Argentina, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey and the USA), 35 per cent had a positive take on Brexit and 17 per cent negative.
"

Out of the EU - and into the World! 

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Charles Moore: in tune with this blog

Here he is, saying a lot of what this blog has been saying, about the decline of the West, about the meaninglessness of the term 'right-wing' nowadays and so on.

It's easy enough to poke holes in Moore's thoughts, especially given that part of what we might call his evidence base is what Andrew Lloyd Webber has to say about London theatres. But just read this:

"It may sound Marxist to say this, but I do think the elites have constructed a world order which serves their interests, not those of their subject populations."

I am not immediately interested in whether that is a true statement about the world. Rather, I wonder what it says about contemporary political culture that a humane, rational, elite, Establishment (Margaret Thatcher's biographer! a former editor of The Telegraph!) figure can come to such a conclusion. Or, being Charles Moore in the Spectator, if not come to a conclusion, then at least say it out loud and try it out for size. (But don't be concerned about the Marxism - thinking conservatives have more time for Marx than you might imagine: Roger Scruton's sympathetic exposition of Marxist concepts such as alienation in The Meaning of Conservatism is a good example.)

Rod Liddle, always more trenchant, says this: "[Liberalism] has not brought happiness, or wealth, or a better society. It has brought instead a certain, easily won liberation for the wealthiest of us, but down below has effected nothing other than social chaos and poverty. And it might just have had its day." And Rowan Williams, very rarely so direct, says this: "beneath all these continuing states of crisis and contradiction is the metacrisis that shapes them all, the crisis of “liberalism” ... What we are now refusing to grasp is that “liberalism” in fact undermines democracy, ethics, human respect, social justice, scientific creativity and pretty well everything else. ... " (He is, I think, explaining the point of view of the authors of the book he is reviewing, but it is a sympathetic review.)

When it comes to politics, ideas can become self-fulfilling: if everyone thinks that liberalism is an elitist con trick that deserves to die, then die it will. It is not yet impossible to save liberalism: it is clearly preferable to any actually existing alternative, from China to Cuba via Russia or Saudi Arabia. But what I am seeing, on both the Left and the Right, is a lack of interest - a lack of will - in keeping it alive, and a curious appetite to see what might come next.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Character building through the noble sport of hooliganism

Sport, as we have all known since Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, is a great builder of character: teamwork, loyalty, persistence in the face of adversity, leadership, strength, endurance - the list of positive character traits it encourages is endless.

By "sport", I don't mean watching sport. I mean participating. Throwing oneself into the action, shoulder to shoulder with one's teammates, winning or losing - taking the knocks - together.

Sports come with a social structure to them too. Not just socialising at the 19th hole or the cricket tea, valuable though these occasions are, but a whole social world. Clubs (is there a more British word than club?), youth programmes, A teams and B teams, managers, coaches, veterans, clubhouses, fixture lists, hon secs and so on. How many people spend valuable hours of their lives not just playing sport, but encouraging the next generation or simply doing the admin? All of that, too, builds character.

And don't forget that all of amateur sport is done because of, for want of a better word, love. When someone turns up on a Saturday morning to teach rugby to children, or spends her evenings arranging next season's match fixtures, or shouts themselves hoarse urging the team to one final effort - what's it all for? Glory, honour, self-respect, self-sacrifice, duty - in a word, love.

You knew all this already. But perhaps you didn't know that football hooliganism is a character building sport in its own right too. "That decade as a hooligan allowed me to grow into somebody that I wouldn't want to change for anything – it made me a better person," someone says here. It's possible, isn't it?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Who said this?

"... the geopolitical stance of the US towards Russia over the past 15 years has been atrocious. The idiocy with which Nato and the US have promised friendly regimes such as Georgia or Ukraine military support, has given Putin an excuse to tear up all agreements with the west. By adopting an aggressive and imperialistic attitude to Russia, Obama and Clinton have allowed Putin to justify his stranglehold over his own people. Whereas Trump, as a businessman, understands the importance of the deal. He has already said that he won't endorse wars that doesn't think he will win. That’s why he opposed the 2003 Iraq War — it wasn’t on humanitarian grounds. He doesn't want to have a constant love affair with Putin, he just wants to cut a deal with him."

Yanis Varoufakis, that's who. 

Putin is probably the biggest winner of recent developments in the world. Trump in charge in the US, Fillon or Le Pen (both amenable to Putin) in France, potential escalation in US-China tensions, Russia increasingly looking like part of the solution rather than part of the problem in the Middle East - all of these are pro-Putin developments. I bet he was shorting Italian bank shares too.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The "achievements" of Cuba

Are not entirely imaginary, but have been achieved at great cost. Think of the educational and health benefits as being like Eastern bloc countries and their Olympic medals: some were won fair and square, some were not, but you have to ask 'was it worth it?' about all of them. For example, on infant mortality:

"Cuba does have a very low infant mortality rate, but pregnant women are treated with very authoritarian tactics to maintain these favorable statistics,” said Tassie Katherine Hirschfeld, the chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma who spent nine months living in Cuba to study the nation’s health system. “They are pressured to undergo abortions that they may not want if prenatal screening detects fetal abnormalities. If pregnant women develop complications, they are placed in ‘Casas de Maternidad’ for monitoring, even if they would prefer to be at home. Individual doctors are pressured by their superiors to reach certain statistical targets. If there is a spike in infant mortality in a certain district, doctors may be fired. There is pressure to falsify statistics."

Read it all here.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Outside the bubbles - UPDATED

No doubt you are all busily peering outside your bubbles to see what is happening in other people's. I'm here to help you.

First, you've got to do this properly. Don't just go to the Guardian for a guide: "It looks like Jason Wilson assumes that all religious people are some form of conservative — and nobody in The Guardian's editorial chain of command knew enough about religion to counter him." Oh dear. The Guardian's guide to the Dark Side goes awry.

This article says it is about Steve Bannon, who is well outside your bubble, but it's not really so you can safely read it whatever bubble you are in. The article is about the contrast between Zionism and the diaspora Jewish identity, and is interesting. It would also be interesting to know more about other disapora groups: what do NRIs in Silicon Valley think of Hindutva? What about émigré Kurds or Iranians? The traditional British Costa del Sol-type diaspora has been caricatured as (ironically) not very internationalist. But everyone thought the majority of the modern British diaspora would be pro-EU. Anecdotally, that seems right, even in Hong Kong.

If you really want to know about Steve Bannon then read his actual words here, from a talk given at a conference focused on poverty hosted by the Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican. What a weird bubble he must be in to be interested in that kind of thing.

Here's Slavoj Žižek, in an interesting bubble of his own. I'm not quite sure whether he would be happy with Europeans giving very large amounts of money to refugees so long as they stayed at home. I think he would have been happy with Saddam Hussein running the Congo. Possibly. Possibly that's a multi-bubble preference.

While you are surfing these new bubbles, please do keep an educated sense of proportion. "This mass forgetting leaves us with few analogies for any new event, save those provided by pop culture; when a populist demagogue is propelled into power, Americans can only debate whether they will be a.) Hitler, or b.) not Hitler, without asking whether they could be Peisistratus, or Sulla, or Justinian, or Komnenos, or Andrew Jackson." Or Berlusconi. Or Peron. Or Chavez.

UPDATE: but in fact, it looks pretty nice inside the Bubble (SNL sketch).

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Justice?

"On 14 June 2016, the resident judge at Exeter Crown Court stayed all further proceedings against M, at 97 years old the oldest defendant so far to have stood trial in a Crown Court in England and Wales.
...
Following pre-trial legal argument, the trial judge ruled that some allegations should be stayed, due to the loss of documents and the impossibility of now having a fair trial. The Crown challenged the decision, unsuccessfully, in interlocutory proceedings in the Court of Appeal ([2015] EWCA Crim 1928). ... M suffered from a catalogue of age-related ailments, and a range of special measures were introduced. Statements had to be read out to M as he was virtually blind. Audio amplification equipment was used as he was 90% deaf. M’s powers of processing information and recall were inhibited by Parkinson’s disease, requiring unnatural pauses in the evidence as each question and answer had to be repeated. M’s short-term memory was greatly diminished, and at the beginning and end of each court session the evidence had to be summarised to him by counsel. Court sitting was limited to 45-minute sessions, with a maximum of four sessions a day. Sitting days were often much shorter on the advice of ever present doctors and court appointed intermediaries.

Two trials progressed to jury verdicts. Both resulted in acquittals. Undeterred, the Crown sought a further trial, and was only prevented from doing so with the judge’s intervention in staying all further proceedings.
"

Read the whole thing here. Pretty shocking, right? In England, in 2016, hounding an old man like that?

Well, maybe. As you will have guessed, this is a case involving allegations of historic sexual abuse. I'm pretty sure that 97 year olds who were active but uncaught burglars in the 1950s are safe now.

It's an extreme case and I am doubtful that there was much public interest in this prosecution. I can think of better uses of taxpayers' money. But perhaps the law is in fact in the right place on this point. 

One of passages covered by an ellipsis above was this: "M was headmaster of a boarding school in the 1960s and 1970s. He had been tried four times for similar allegations in the 1970s. All previous proceedings resulted in acquittal or dismissal of charges. Complainant pressure led to a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) review in 2013. Witnesses were re-interviewed and enquiries made to identify further potential evidence. Fresh allegations emerged, including from two further complainants, now pensioners, who had provided character evidence for M in the 1970s proceedings. They now alleged abuse by M from their childhood in the 1950s." That puts a bit of a different spin on it, doesn't it?  Imagine you were a complainant in one of the 1970s cases who saw (presumably) your fellow pupils lie to support the defendant, a man who (so they all have now said, I assume) abused them. There's something to be said for vindication in a case like that, and better late than never.

Moreover, there's something to be said for the law saying that you can never rest easy if you commit crimes such as those. What would we think if someone could wait (say) 20 years and then turn around and say "aha! I got away with it!"? Is it wrong to say that if all the guilty child abusers lose some sleep worrying whether the past will catch up with them then a little bit of justice is done?

The article I've linked to above is a good and sensible one. It's a good example of how looking at the nuts and bolts of a legal process can be more interesting than the theory. The issue seems to be that the public interest does not put much weight on the condition of the defendant, and surely even (especially?) in a case such as this it should do. There is a good reason for that: everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and some people are so ill or disabled that they can't fairly defend themselves. And I do mean everyone. Let me repeat: M has been repeatedly acquitted of serious allegations; please consider that he is the real victim here, of malicious or of innocent errors that have led to him being unjustly hounded for serious accusations over the decades.

So read the article and form your own views, or at least your own doubts.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Zadie Smith's 7 year old did not know what a priest is

From an interview with Zadie Smith:

"Given that the world feels so fragmented, have you thought more recently about the famous Forster phrase, “only connect,” which is the epigraph to Howards End, and is, in part, a call for connection between people?

Yeah. It’s so easy just to fall through the gap because there’s the lack of collective experience. I was making my children watch There’s No Business Like Show Business because Nick was out of the house so I could get away with it. It’s a slightly terrible musical from the early ’50s. In the middle of it, one of the characters leaves the family act and becomes a priest. My daughter said, “What is a priest?” I thought, Jesus, when I was 7, is there any way I wouldn’t have known what a priest is? I don’t think so, just because you had a collective culture, the TV, but also our community, the church at the end of my road. You would’ve known.

It’s like wow, that’s a big gap, clearly that’s a quite serious thing not to know at 7 that there has been, in fact, our whole society is founded on a faith that she only has the vaguest idea of. She’d heard of Judaism just about, but that was it. That kind of thing is quite shocking to me. I don’t know. It’s atomized. I have no answer. It’s curious to me to watch it happening in my children. They’re kind of piecing together a world. They can’t even go through the record collection as we did and think, Oh there was the Beatles and there was the Stones and here’s Ella Fitzgerald. They only have this iTunes, which just seems to be a random collection of names and titles. There’s no pictures, no context, no historical moment. It’s so odd.
"

An arresting answer to a question almost as fawning as it was asinine.

In the era of Trump, elite bubbles, mutual incomprehension and so on, there's a lot of obvious points one can make about this story about an educated family that divides its time between New York and London not knowing what a priest is. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Scott Alexander on the media crying wolf about Donald Trump

This is just excellent. It is a first class demonstration, by someone with no time for Donald Trump, of what is wrong with the coverage of Donald Trump. I won't quote bits (except the warning at the outset: "Please don’t interpret anything in this article to mean that Trump is not super terrible"); I will just urge you to read it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The mixed benefits of a public school education

I did like this.


Coll (I assume) means College, i.e. the scholars' house at Winchester. So Seamus Milne is a bright chap.

But so was Rurik Jutting, also apparently a scholar at Winchester, it says here (a link also mentioning his thoughts about Wycombe Abbey) - but I issue a genuine trigger warning against reading anything about that person.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Trump

Of course it's going to be about Trump. You know all about him. But try looking at new perspectives. Too many of us have gone wrong by staying inside our comfort zones. These are interesting thinkers - probably wrong, but we have all been wrong - and a diverse mixture.

1. Peter Hitchens on what is going wrong. "Those old stories about wicked necromancers raising demons, and then not being able to send them back where they came from, seem to me to be metaphors for modern-day political alchemists who raise huge hopes which they know they cannot satisfy, so summoning into being crowds which can all too easily become mobs, and will not go home when asked. What then?" and "Someone has cut the ropes, and we are adrift on a strange, sinister, powerful current towards an unknown destination which it might be better never to reach at all."

2. Maybe it's more simple than that. Glenn Greenwald: "“both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for 30 years.” ... From the invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the all-consuming framework of prisons and endless wars, societal benefits have been directed almost exclusively to the very elite institutions most responsible for failure at the expense of everyone else."

3. Or perhaps Trump even has some right answers. Martin Kettle: "In his own deeply egotistical and socially illiberal way, Trump stands for something true."

4. Or perhaps Trump is supported by something false - identity politics: "Notice, though, that Miss Anderson does not fault these white women for voting according to identity politics. She only faults them for choosing the “wrong” identity: their race, not their sex." Or perhaps it doesn't matter that much. (Both Rod Dreher.)

5. As a final PS, here is Jonathan Pie explaining everything. (Video, with both rude words and wisdom.)

Monday, 7 November 2016

Good news

1. The world is getting greener: "As the paper’s lead author, Zaichun Zhu, of Beijing University, puts it, it’s the equivalent of adding a green continent twice the size of mainland USA."

2. Here's how you can find books you might like.

3. A judge got to write this: "This application by the joint administrators of Dent Company ... affords the opportunity to consider the application of the equitable doctrines of marshalling and subrogation in relation to a fixed charge over a dog."

4. "A new Alberta company lets you send greetings to your loved ones, or your enemies, by posting a potato in the mail." More here (including a picture of a personalised potato).

5. A-level students can make John Lewis Christmas ads.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Black Jeopardy

You might have seen some mention of the Saturday Night Live Black Jeopardy sketch with Tom Hanks. Here it is. It really is very cleverly done and well worth watching.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

What does 'right-wing' mean?

A question prompted by this:

"... bigots on the religious Right are, with increasing deliberateness and sophistication, mobilizing religious grievances in order to incite political violence – effectively turning freedom of speech against itself. The most high-profile incidences of this kind in Europe include the controversy in 2005 surrounding the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, and of course the massacre at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in January 2015."

(From the TLS.)

So the people who shot the staff of Charlie Hebdo were on the religious Right, were they? Like George W Bush, say? Does 'right-wing' mean nothing more than 'unpleasant'?

Monday, 31 October 2016

More on why Remain lost

This, from Daniel Korski (deputy director of the policy unit in David Cameron’s government) is fascinating.

I thought there are two striking aspects of the piece. First, it clearly emerges that the British Establishment really did not understand Europe: we thought we could block Juncker; we miscalculated the renegotiation terribly; at one point he refers to "Whitehall departments [that our man in the EU] believed had long since given up trying to understand Europe".

Second, Korski has some interesting insights on politicians: "British politics is famously adversarial, and those who make it to the top are results-focused leaders. They start and end meetings promptly and go into a conversation with clear set of points. Once these have been made, they seek to end the conversation. Cameron is no exception; rather, he is the exemplar. He can be charming. But his style is functional, whether in telephone calls or in person. // Continental politics, on the other hand, tend to be more consensual. European leaders spend a lot of time discussing issues, talking around a subject. They even vacation together." Urgh.

On Labour politicians in particular: "Labour’s problem was structural. In many constituencies, especially in the North, Labour MPs never really needed to canvass the electorate. These constituencies had returned Labour MPs to the House of Commons since time immemorial. And so they remained largely uncavassed. // Many Labour MPs also did not seem to me to have the intellectual tools to have serious arguments about Europe with their constituents. They just hadn’t had to do it before. Whereas every Tory MP and would-be politician had been forced to hone his or her views on Europe, Labour — though historically and nominally pro-European — was full of MPs who struggled to make the case for the EU."

But read the whole piece.

And then read this, from Dominic Cummings. Fantastically complementary. The Remain man in Downing Street failing to understand Merkel, the Labour Party, the EU or anything of any importance, compared with the dedicated Leaver spending money finding individual streets that would vote Leave. And note Cummings' comments about PPE.

Friday, 21 October 2016

On ballet

This fascinating piece tells us a lot about the life of one ballerina/ex-ballerina and a little about the lives of others.

This struck me as true: "We know of no other occupation that requires such extensive training, that is held in such esteem as a contribution to culture, and that pays so little." And yet, as a dilettante balletomane, I am sure that that is somehow part of the strange, glamorous, fairytale, magical appeal of the whole affair.

There is a reason why the things that everyone knows about ballet dancers are that they are very fit and strong (stronger than footballers, you may have heard) and that their feet bleed. Knowledge of the hard-as-nails labour below all that sugar-plum-fairy-pink-tutu-silliness on the surface is an essential flavour of the experience: one sits there knowing that vast resources - the opera houses! the hand-painted scenery! the hand-sewn costumes! the hours of practice! the muscles! people's whole lives! - have been built and expended to create something effervescent and ephemeral, something fleeting and light. All that weight is designed to create the illusion of something essentially weightless - and the more the real weight, the more impressive the illusion is. It just wouldn't be the same experience for the audience if it could be done without practice by naturally talented individuals, like rolling your tongue. And who would watch robots doing ballet?

I also suspect it wouldn't be quite the same if ballet dancers were all as rich and famous as footballers.

I am not happy to notice that feeling in myself. I really do wish they were all as rich and famous as footballers. At the very least, it would be nice if they were well-paid professionals with happy bourgeois home lives - 2.4 children and a back garden - and healthy appetites, rather than living in poky garrets on a diet of cigarettes and $5 a week. May they all have the afterlives of Darcey Bussell! But introspection tells me that one of the reasons the audience cares about the ballet, one of the reasons that, for all its silliness, it matters, is because of the sacrifices made by the dancers.

I know, I know. It's the other way around, isn't it? I should say that it is because it matters that people make the sacrifices. But in the case of ballet at least, is that right? Can't something which itself of beauty and value be given additional value - be sanctified, almost - by the sacrifices involved in its creation?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

How the "Cab Rank Rule" works

You may have heard of the Cab Rank Rule for barristers: barristers take their clients as cabdrivers take their fares. The idea is that, as Lord Hoffmann put it, "Every barrister not otherwise engaged is available for hire by any client willing and able to pay the appropriate fee. This rule protects barristers against being criticised for giving their services to a client with a bad reputation and enables unpopular causes to obtain representation in court." Lord Hutton described it as "a fundamental and essential part of a liberal legal system". You get the idea.

This is the lighthearted diary of a fictional QC doing criminal work. Our diarist is meant to be a sympathetic protagonist, struggling with the financial hardships of modern criminal work and occasionally regretting the passing of the good old days.

The following is from his most recent column. The scene: his clerk has come to his room with a case in mind.

"‘You like Mrs Whitcomb of Rodericks and Carlson, don’t you sir?’ He knows I do. ‘It’s just that she’s got a very nice little section 18 I thought you might suit you.’ I enquired how she had secured public funding, as a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent is almost always seen as not requiring Queen’s Counsel by the powers-that-be. ‘Private, sir,’ was the response. ‘Oh,’ I said, moving slightly forward in my chair but hiding my excitement. ‘Oh well, I don’t mind. And, yes, I do like her. She is extremely capable and enormous fun.’ Andrew looked at me: ‘It is in Wales, sir.’ I knew it had been too good to be true. ‘I do have quite a bit of paper work to do actually, now I think about it.’ ‘Leading Miss Briar-Pitt, sir, and she’s got a lot of papers to work on too; in that fraud next year here in London. The one she hasn’t got a leader in yet.’ He had put his cards on the table and asked to see my hand. I folded."

I don't do criminal work, but the scene sounds plausible to me. Lord Hoffmann's "not otherwise engaged" can be a bit of a movable feast.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A miscellany of links

Nothing to do with Brexit.

1. There are still some Samaritans. Only 777 of them, but that sounds like the kind of auspicious number that might just work out for their future.

2. Do you really care about global warming? Does it matter? It depends.

3. I don't really understand this, but it seems that computers can write time travel fiction and 'solve' the grandfather paradox into the bargain.

4. Interesting piece about Sadiq Khan. It reminded me of that bit in American Hustle where the sympathetic mayor explains that if they are to have a casino then they need to do business with the mob. "Nuance is the friend of truth," the author says, and ultimately of Khan too, I suspect.

5. Robert Kaplan: "the tragedy of the Arab world was never a lack of democracy, but a lack of enlightened authoritarianism". Meanwhile, "Authoritarian leaders are seen as far more trustworthy than politicians in more openly democratic countries across the emerging world, according to data compiled by the World Economic Forum. ... One of the biggest losers in the WEF's "trust in politicians" ranking over this period has been Tunisia, widely regarded as the sole success story of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Its politicians were ranked as the 15th most trustworthy in the world in 2010, before the overthrow of President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. Under democratic rule, the country has fallen to 63rd."

Monday, 17 October 2016

Who will pay the bills?

Look at this graph from the Economist.
Forget poor old Poland for a moment. What about Italy, Spain and Germany? Who will pay the eurozone's bills? 

Maybe those shrunken populations will be terribly rich and productive? Well, "Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, has a per-capita G.D.P. that’s lower than it was at the end of the last century," says John Lanchester. It's 2016.
Say what you want about Mark Steyn (and please do - freedom of speech is one of his things) but you can't deny that he is thinking about demography. 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

How to write about Brexit - and how not to

Brexit, in the sense of both the vote and what happens next, is an economic issue. It is not just an economic issue, but it is certainly that. You might have spotted that the pound has gone down a bit, for example. So people with an economics background write about it, as they should. And they draw political points from their economic framework. Again, so they should. But it can go wrong. (More below.)


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

A miscellany of links

1. How to have fun. ""Competitiveness is a funny one," said Ben afterwards. "Usually it just makes people angry and kills fun dead." ... After all his studying, Ben concluded that you need other people to have fun. You just can't have fun alone. Even when you think you're having fun by yourself, it's with reference to an absent other. It's doing something you know you've had fun doing with others in the past, or it's I-can't-wait-until-someone-else-hears-about-this." This and more, all worth thinking about.

2. How we spoke 8,000 years ago.

3. More recently - in fact last month - here is singing in Aramaic for the Pope visiting Georgia. Yup, Aramaic. Listen to it and weep not for the Abendlandes.

4. "As Charles Moore explains in his biography of Margaret Thatcher, Mrs T always felt that there was no one to catch her if she fell, because she wasn’t part of that male–dominated Tory club where political bonds are reinforced by old school friendships and family ties. May, who entered the Commons only five years after Thatcher left, is conscious of this too. ... Throughout her time in politics, May has known that if she made a mistake there wouldn’t be anyone to make excuses for her." Is that true of women politicians starting out now? If not, what difference will it make to them?

5. Brexit stuff. William Hague talks sense here, while Daniel Hannan (profiled here as the Man Who Brought You Brexit) writes about post-referendum Britain here. (The Untergang will come to Britain too, fear not, but my hope is that we will be so distracted by debating Brexit - an argument in which both sides are led by people steeped in that liberal democratic tradition that was the future once - that it will take longer to reach here than other parts of the Abendlandes.)

6. Donald Trump. First, why some people vote for him. Second, here, what the Mormons were right about (Trump), what Trump was right about (Iraq, healthcare) and what St. Teresa of Avila was right about (More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones).

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Der Untergang des Abendlandes (continued)

Here is the ever-excellent Ross Douthat making a complementary point to my observation the other day that the liberal democratic state has lost its supporters, namely that all the energy and enthusiasm in politics is to be found in those who "regard the liberal consensus as something to be transcended or rejected, rather than reformed or redeemed".

Douthat gives us a taxonomy of the groups on the Left and the Right who are doing the transcending or rejecting. You probably don't need to be told about those on the Left who consider that the righting of structural injustices warrants all sorts of impingements on traditional views of free speech and free association. But do not forget those on the Right too. I was put in mind again of this passage (from here): "The tenets of Manchester liberalism were adopted by conservatives in America because they found them well-suited to an Anglo-Protestant people with a wide distribution of property and a continent of resources. They are not divine writ [...] we may need to make different exceptions to them than we have in the past."

Friday, 7 October 2016

Japanese self-mummification

"Between 1081 and 1903, at least 17 monks managed to mummify themselves. The number may well be higher, however, as it is likely some mummies were never recovered from the alpine tombs.

They are called sokushinbutsu. They were pretty hardcore: "Incredibly, Tetsumonkai is one of several sokushinbutsu to auto-enucleate—remove one’s own eye—as a charitable act."

Do not try this at home.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Donald Trump and Elena Ferrante

Two people with nothing in common? Nothing except something that occurred to the Complete Review:

"As it happens, this weekend also saw another invasion of privacy: the release of a few pages of American presidential candidate Donald Trump's tax returns. ... there were dozens, if not hundreds of posts expressing disappointment and outrage at the release of the 'Elena Ferrante' information -- but not a one suggesting that Donald Trump had in any way been treated unfairly, despite the fact that this information was released without his permission and presumably entirely against his personal wishes. ... Almost everyone seems terribly sympathetic to 'Elena Ferrante' while shrugging off the other case, as though Trump just got what he deserves. It shouldn't work that way."

It shouldn't. But it's hard to keep that kind of dispassionate approach: cf bin Laden and Thatcher.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Der Untergang des Abendlandes

Yesterday's post was about how the eurozone countries have been forced to vote for an ugly fringe party in order to achieve economic sanity. I am not sure that liberal democracy has the emotional resonance required to resist this.

Let's look at this way. The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama was published in 1992. The thesis of the book was that Western liberal democracy had won: it was the endpoint of human political evolution. Of course, people said, we're not really at the end of history. But did they imagine that the pillars of Western liberal democracy would be so devoid of supporters within the space of one generation?

Free trade? Here's this week's Economist: "It is hard to imagine ... a leading Western politician being lauded for a defence of free trade. Neither candidate in America’s presidential election is a champion." And that's in the Land of the Free. On this side of the Atlantic, do you remember all those people marching down the streets in favour of TTIP or the EU's free-trade agreement with Canada? Nope, me neither.

Free speech? Take your pick: no-platforming, hate speech laws, you name it. Here are just a couple of straws in the wind.
- 4 years before Fukuyama's book (and just one year before the article on which it was based), The Satanic Verses was published. It was a 1988 Booker Prize finalist and won the 1988 Whitbread Award. You may recall that it caused some controversy and that the Establishment stood up to defend Salman Rushdie. Last year, however, cinemas refused to show an advert in which a carefully-diverse set of people take turns saying the Lord's Prayer. You may have more difficulty recalling that controversy.
- Here's another example: "A freshman tentatively raises her hand and takes the microphone. “I’m really scared to ask this,” she begins. “When I, as a white female, listen to music that uses the N word, and I’m in the car, or, especially when I’m with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?” // The answer, from Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University, is an unequivocal “no.”" She's not as scared as Salman Rushdie was, I'm sure. But the people she is scared of are much closer to home.

Democracy? Here's that voice of sanity, Martin Wolf in the FT, saying, "Under a President Trump, democracy would lose credibility as a model for a civilised political life". So it seems we're just one bad election in one country away from the final discrediting of democracy.

Oh well. Liberal democracy has had a good run. My guess is that the history books will rank it up there with the Roman Empire, so that's not too bad, is it?

Monday, 3 October 2016

A disaster in the making

Sir Paul Collier CBE is professor of economics and public policy in the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. From 1998 until 2003 he was the director of the Development Research Group of the World Bank. In 2010 and 2011, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers. Collier currently serves on the advisory board of Academics Stand Against Poverty.

Why am I telling you this? Just to let you know that Collier has mainstream liberal views and knows what he is talking about.

What he is talking about on this occasion (here in the TLS) is the euro. Specifically, he is reviewing the recent book by Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize winner in Economics, worked for Bill Clinton, also knows what he is talking about) on the subject. You should read the review.

Stiglitz says that the euro is - as mainstream economics always said it would be - a disaster. And he turns his well-intentioned, mainstream, liberal thinking mind to the question of how to resolve the situation.

Plan A is to save the euro by (in essence) turning the eurozone into one country, like the USA. But this isn't going to work for practical reasons so there will have to be a divorce.  Stiglitz and Collier have some clever-clever ideas for how to get an amicable divorce going. But there are political difficulties with that Plan B too.

All of this is sensible, mainstream, liberal, etc thinking. But it leads to this sentence: "Divorce is likely, but it will most probably happen when a fringe party of some varying shade of ugliness wins an election." Which means that we started with mainstream liberal sensible people thinking about the euro, and by a series of sensible steps, thinking about how things are in the real world, we have ended up saying that the solution to the problem of the euro - the central economic problem of Europe - is to elect a far-right party. So don't be surprised when that happens.

My own view is that there is more life in Plan A than Stiglitz/Collier think. After all, sensible people would never have started in the euro in the first place, and the people in charge of the euro have enough power to take steps to avoid themselves looking stupid for some time to come. But that will only make the "fringe party of some varying shade of ugliness" all the more ugly when it finally arrives.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Reason to believe that we do not see reality as it really is

Even leaving aside the philosophical reasons and the 'we're all in the Matrix' reason, there is the argument from evolution. I won't summarise it for you, but it's a cracker.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Is there a reasoned case for supporting Donald Trump?

This (with follow-ups first here and here) is an apparently widely-circulated piece setting out reasons for American conservatives to support Donald Trump.

As a taster, I will give you a questions he asks in his original piece rather than the answer he gives: "Trump is the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey. He departs from conservative orthodoxy in so many ways that National Review still hasn’t stopped counting. But let’s stick to just the core issues animating his campaign. On trade, globalization, and war, Trump is to the left (conventionally understood) not only of his own party, but of his Democratic opponent. And yet the Left and the junta are at one with the house-broken conservatives in their determination—desperation—not merely to defeat Trump but to destroy him. What gives?"

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A handful of links

No connecting theme, but all recommended.

1. Don't believe the good economic news about Brexit, says Tyler Cowen. It might end up costing £5,625 per person (in total wealth, not annual income). Value for money, says Aaron Banks. Or, to put it another way, what would you say the chance that your children would be doing their EU National Service and ordered by (say) an Italian general to fight a border war against Russia in the Ukraine (a) was before Brexit and (b) is now. And how much would you pay to avoid that possibility? (Of course, your children, being good Europeans, will volunteer anyway.)

2. On the topic of Russia, here is Peter Hitchens (more interesting than you might think). "My country boasts that it has not been invaded for one thousand years. The U.S. has not really been invaded at all, unless you count Britain’s 1814 rampage through Washington, DC (almost exactly two years after Napoleon Bonaparte had made a far more destructive and less provoked attack upon Moscow). But Russia is invaded all the time—by the Tatars, the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Swedes, the French, us British, the Germans, the Japanese, the Germans again: They keep coming. Nor are these invasions remote history. On the main airport road into Moscow, at Khimki, stands a row of steel dragon-teeth anti-tank barriers, commemorating the arrival there, before Christmas 1941, of Hitler’s armies."

3. The Bank of America thinks there is a 20-50% chance that we are living inside the Matrix, although "The investment implications remain unclear" (Hilary Putnam had something to say about that, as I recall ...). You don't get to vote for Matrexit, by the way.

4. "As for aromatic plants, one speaks of the narcissus of Jurjān, 
the roses of Jūr, the water lilies of al-Sīrawān, the gillyflowers of 
Baghdad, the saffron of Qom, and the sweet basil of Samarqand." London is having a hot spell at the moment and, while walking the streets after sunset in warm darkness, I feel I will come across the sweet basil of Samarqand round every next corner. I never do.

5. Yuja Wang. (Trigger warning - encores, not the main performance.)

Monday, 12 September 2016

Hillary Clinton

Rod Dreher, who is not an idiot, has comments on Clinton's apparent illness here, including from a doctor who says of Trump's doctor: "I am not sure what is wrong with that guy – but something clearly ails him." I am not qualified to comment.

Friday, 9 September 2016

How to revitalise the British Left

This piece in the Guardian by John Harris is pretty good as diagnosis. You'll have guessed a lot of what he has to say before he says it, but he says it well and with good details. For example, after reminding us that the Labour Party was always thought to be the 'party of the working man', he tells us this:

"In Plymouth, I watched a woman answer the door to a Labour canvasser with the words: “I’m a grafter – you ain’t doing nothing for me.” I spoke to a man in the north-eastern steeltown of Redcar who told me he would never vote Labour “because I work”. In the bellwether seat of Nuneaton, two women told me that Ed Miliband would probably win the election because “all the people on benefits” were going to vote for him. As these people saw it, Labour was no longer the “party of work”."

It seems that a great aim of the Cameron/Osborne government has been achieved, namely to paint Labour as the party of people on benefits (and their noblesse oblige-motivated rich supporters). 

But Harris' prescriptions are rubbish. I've got much better ones below.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Britain's (probably) illegal wars

When you get advice from a barrister you will not be told that you will definitely win or lose. Instead, you are likely to be given advice framed in some other some form of words. Sometimes people don't quite understand what those words means. Let me explain.

Let's say that X comes to a barrister and asks whether he has a claim against Y. Broadly speaking, the barrister can come to one of 4 views of the matters: (a) X has a good strong case and it would be a big surprise if Y won; (b) X is more likely to win than to lose, but it would not be that surprising if Y won; (c) X is more likely to lose than win, but it would not be that surprising if X won; and (d) Y is probably going to win and it would be a big surprise if X won. (There is also (e) - X's case is so bad that the barrister cannot even advance it given his professional obligations - but take it from me, there is never a case at the other extreme, i.e. where you are 100% likely to win.) It's pretty hard to make finer distinctions than that 4-point scale. You might add in the truly 50-50 case or the almost-entirely hopeless argument, but you are unlikely to get to more than a 6 to 8-point scale.

Sometimes barristers are asked to put numbers on these prospects of success. You might see a 70% chance of success (rarely more than that) for the top category, 50-60% for the second and so on. More often, you see various well-worn phrases. It is important to understand that unless these phrases include "strong", "overwhelming" or something like that, they probably mean that the barrister thinks you are going to lose. So, for example, if you are told that your case is "reasonably arguable", that means it is in the third category: you will probably lose, but you've got a chance.

And that brings us to the UK and its wars. The Chilcott Inquiry tells us this about the advice that Lord Goldsmith gave the Government about the legality of the Iraq War:

"557. Lord Goldsmith wrote: “In reaching my conclusions, I have taken account of the fact that on a number of previous occasions, including in relation to Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 and Kosovo in 1999, UK forces have participated in military action on the basis of advice from my predecessors that the legality of the action under international law was no more than reasonably arguable. “But a ‘reasonable case’ does not mean that if the matter ever came before a court I would be confident that the court would agree with this view. I judge that, having regard to the arguments on both sides, and considering the resolution as a whole in the light of the statements made on adoption and subsequently, a court might well conclude that OPs 4 and 12 do require a further Council decision in order to revive the authorisation in resolution 678. But equally I consider that the counter view can reasonably be maintained." (My emphasis.)

What Lord Goldsmith is saying here is that the practice of the UK Government has been to participate in military action where the legal case for doing so, in the view of the Government's legal advisers, is in the third category: i.e., where the chances are that if the matter were ever came to a final determination before a competent Court, the UK would probably lose the case. In short, it is good enough for the troops if the military action is probably illegal, but just not utterly and clearly illegal.

One moral from this is that you should be careful about expressing your opposition to a war based on the fact that it is 'illegal'. You may find that some other wars you did support were every bit as 'illegal' too.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Men must be very horrible

I say because, so the evidence shows, if a (heterosexual) man is to get married and stay married he has to offer a lot of money to the woman.

So, you're probably familiar with the fact that in the high-income strata of society, traditional marriage and child-rearing patterns have largely been maintained, while lower down the social ladder we find more single parent families, divorced or never married parents and so on. You might have treated this as a fact about upper middle-class 'values' or deferment of gratification or what have you. But this is a more simple explanation:

"the distribution of the share of income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp drop to the right of 1, where the wife’s income exceeds the husband’s income. We argue that this pattern is best explained by gender identity norms, which induce an aversion to a situation where the wife earns more than her husband. We present evidence that this aversion also impacts marriage formation, the wife’s labor force participation, the wife’s income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. In couples where the wife’s potential income is likely to exceed the husband’s, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. In couples where the wife earns more than the husband, the wife spends more time on household chores; moreover, those couples are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. These patterns hold both cross-sectionally and within couples over time."

(That "gender identity norm" is just the norm that a woman won't put up with a man unless he's bringing more money than her to the party: i.e. it's just another way of saying that men must be pretty horrible.)

Now, when you take into account the fact that the difference between men and women’s earnings is much larger at higher household incomes than at lower incomes, you can see why poor men don't get married: unlike rich men, they just don't have the massive advantage of earning power over women which is necessary to persuade women to stick with them. (All at the link above.)

This fact about the inherently off-putting nature of men explains divorce as well: women are more likely to instigate divorce proceedings (it's about 70/30), even though they are likely to end up worse off as a result (average 30% drop in income).

You might want to think about Scandinavian countries in this context as well, famed as they are for sexual equality, low marriage rates and high divorce rates.  "The equalising of income which has occurred among social classes and between the sexes in the 20th century has contributed to making divorce a viable alternative, not just for the elite," says Glenn Sandström of the University of Umeå. Yup, even those lovely Scandinavian men are horrible really.

What does this mean in the long run? Now that women are entering the highest earning professions at rates similar to men (basically the same for the Bar, for example) or even ahead of men (over 60% of trainee solicitors and new solicitors are women, and already most GPs are women), something has to give: all of these female professionals are going to have to abdicate larger and larger shares of their earning potential, or marriage rates are going to come down, or the fact that men are horrible is going to have to change. Let's assume that men won't change. What next?

Of course, the normal way in which a woman sacrifices a large proportion of her earning potential is as a result of having children. But across the world, and particularly in rich countries, people aren't having as many children as they would like to have, principally because of money worries and the cost of housing, as well as the infertility of older women.

And in the very long run? "Russians regard 2.3 children as ideal; Spaniards favour 2.4; Greeks think 2.6 best. In all three, people reckon that they will end up with 1.7 children on average. Because the replacement fertility rate is about 2.1, the difference between the ideal and expected number of children in these countries is the difference between healthy natural population growth and natural decline." In the very long run, we are all dead. And I mean all. Still, that will solve the problem of what to do with those horrible men.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A variety of interesting links

Not about Brexit, you will be pleased to hear.

1. The slowest athletes in the Olympics: "He was ready to participate at the Olympic games. It would be the fifth race of his life." This answers a lot of questions you might have had about who gets to be in the Olympics, and why the 100m final is not completely full of Jamaicans.

2.  Trust and more trust. The Economist is, as ever, optimistic: "New technologies that encourage co-operation in some spheres of life contribute to social capital rather than weaken it." Tim Harford, by contrast, has this story from high-trust Bavaria: "While browsing for shades in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I warned my young son not to play with the merchandise: a sign forbade children to touch the sunglasses. // The shopkeeper bustled over and reassured me that the rule did not apply to my son. “It’s for the Arab kids,” she told me, beaming. “They just drop the sunglasses on the floor.”"

3. This is a frightening photograph.

4. The influence of Tolkein on rock music.

5. Very weird insects.

6. Sam Kriss on the multiverse. I'm pleased to see that Kriss has, at least in this universe, gained transatlantic appeal.

7. Finally, here's a story that should have a moral - but what? This is how the story goes. If you play basketball, you will have a subjective experience of a 'hot hand': from time to time, it seems that every shot goes in, and you just know that the next one will do too. (I think we all get that feeling with physical skills, such as sporting ones, that are not entirely under conscious control - the feeling that you're in the groove, or something has just clicked.) But some researchers did some maths and proved that there was no such thing. That became famous: a great story about how statistics can show that something you just know to be true is not true. So far so good. But then some other researchers came along and showed that the maths was wrong. In fact - there is a hot hand. A famous 'fallacy' is not a fallacy at all. So what's the moral? There are things you can know that maths can't prove - or if maths seems to disprove it, doubt the maths? OK, that deals with subprime mortgages: don't trust the computer models, trust your instinct. But what about global warming - just go with your gut on that one? Or is it a moral about when scientific research and intuition clash: we know we should be suspicious about scientific findings that we instinctively like - but should be more suspicious about those we dislike? If the next set of science papers say that there is no hot hand again, who will be listening?

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Corbyn - the disaster

Surely the sign that the Labour Party has sunk to its lowest ebb is the fact that it is now open season on its leader. These are two from the Spectator
'I wonder if the same technology could be used for the Labour party?’


Or perhaps it is the fact that his supporters shrug off the fact that he is a laughing stock: "#Traingate encouraged people planning to vote for Jezza, 18% said the events had given them a more positive view of the leader, compared to just 5% who said it had given them a more negative view." Either way, one starts to wonder whether Andrew Roberts might be right: "Anyone who supposes that the Labour Party has some kind of God-given right to permanent existence simply because it has been around for 116 years ought to look to Billingshurst in West Sussex, where the skeleton of a dodo is expected to fetch £500,000 at auction in October."

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A post-Brexit vote reader

All links are worth a look. Many are very short.

1. Robert Tombs: "I recall Victor Hugo’s crushing invective against French elitists who rejected the verdict of democracy, when in 1850 he scorned “your ignorance of the country today, the antipathy that you feel for it and that it feels for you”." What do they know of England, who only England know?

2. How Leave won: it was quite good at using email; it had the upper hand in terms of behavioural thinking; Remain was idiotic in Wales; Leave had a well-thought out campaign, while Remain didn't use these adverts and had bad marketing. Perhaps it was because too many people came across the over-privileged and entitled characters we meet in the LRB here.

3. Perhaps it was all about values, not the economy. Here's a long but interesting piece about values, worth more space than I will give it here. For the moment, I will note only this: "Although I love my country, it is more of a romantic than a filial love." Do you recall all those Brexiteers born outside the UK? Is it too crazy to see the Brexit leadership as motivated by a romantic love and the Remainers by a dutiful filial love? "Of course we love old England, but she's getting on a bit and there's this lovely home for her in Belgium where she can be with other old countries like her and, well, you know, you have to do what's best", the Remainers say, while the Leavers say "you don't want to hang out with these smelly old European guys - let's go dancing!" (Or at least, more filially, "Do not go quietly into that dark night".)

4. Here's Zadie Smith (with a well-chosen photograph, a reminder that the Caribbean is more important to London than the EU in some ways) and here's John Lanchester, two writers nearly always worth reading. An initial thought: the EU is rubbish at many things, but it is brilliant at associating itself in the middle-class English mind with all things good. Why? Let me repeat, For the Left to succeed, the UK must leave the EU, or at least that is a pretty reasonable thing to think. If you're a member of the metropolitan liberal left, you should be in two minds about the EU, in the same way as you are about NATO or faith schools. But you're not. You love the EU and cried after the Brexit vote. (Not universally, I know.) Why? Here's my theory: the Corbynistas are right - you're not really lefties at all. Not deep down. You are small-c conservatives who have fallen in love with a vision of Britain, an Islington/Richard Curtis/Channel 4/Tony Blair illusion, quite as charming and attractive in its own way as UKIP's 1950s village green illusion, but every bit as much of a fantasy. All those people who support Corbyn aren't mad: they've spotted something real and important about the non-Corbyn Labour leadership - it's not in favour of making radical changes to the economic structure of the country for the benefit of the working classes. But UKIP is - it's going to change the immigration rules.

Just to expand on that last point. Here's Lanchester: "The average immigrant is younger, better educated and healthier than the average British citizen. In other words, for every immigrant we let in, the country is richer, more able to pay for its health, education and welfare needs, and less dependent on benefits. They are exactly the demographic the UK needs." But who is this "UK" who needs these people which is a different thing from British citizens? What is the effect on these ill-educated unhealthy Britons (i.e. the UK) of having an incentive structure that allows employers to ignore them and ship in the flower of Poland to work instead? (I know it's a lot more complicated than that, but simply noting that immigrants pay more money in tax than they take as benefits hardly starts to answer the question of whether they benefit the country as a whole.) Here's Larry Summers (of all people): "A new approach has to start from the idea that the basic responsibility of government is to maximise the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good." And that's a new approach!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson did not contest the Conservative leadership election. Boris Johnson has been appointed Foreign Secretary. These are two surprising events. Perhaps they are related?

As we all know, Gove knifed Johnson. That Friday morning, Johnson's assessment of his chances was markedly reduced. But how low were they really? Worse than Andrea Leadsom's? Surely not. And should he make it to the final two, who knows how the party in the country would vote? But let's say that Johnson goes from thinking he was going to win to thinking he was going to lose. This all happened pretty quickly to some tired people and plenty of emotions were involved.

So Johnson thinks he's going to lose. But why shouldn't he try to extract as much value from his candidacy as possible? From his point of view on that Friday morning, a deal whereby (a) he gets the second best job in Government plus (b) Gove gets cast into the outer darkness would be a pretty tempting one.

And now let's look at it from May's point of view. Less emotional, less shocked perhaps. But Johnson is still a real threat. Remember that Leadsom was a real threat - and Johnson has at least ten times her X factor. From May's point of view, taking Johnson out with a promise of a good job looks like a good deal. And if Johnson wants to punish Gove? That's fine too.

So there's scope for a deal to produce precisely the (surprising) outcome that in fact happened. Did such a deal happen? I have no evidence, but it fits the facts.

There's one other thing. Let's say either Johnson doesn't fancy actually doing the Brexit negotiations, or that May reckons he shouldn't do them. Either way, a deal whereby he gets to be Foreign Secretary without responsibility for Brexit is unsurprising.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Trump will win

So says Michael MooreThis guy is worried about it too. This is why. Or maybe this. Scott Adams also explains it a lot (e.g. here).

You want data? FiveThirtyEight is the place for you. Here is the graph showing their assessment of who would win if the election were held today:

So it's basically a toss-up at the moment but Trump is ahead and has been improving. (FiveThirtyEight has other models for predicting the result in November - but they are not great reading for Clinton either.)

Here are two other points.

First, although it's pretty easy to think of events that could help Trump's chances, it's hard to think of ones that help Clinton's: terrorist attacks, for example, play more to Trump than Clinton. Or imagine any plausible revelation about a candidate's private affairs: could Trump's reputation be affected? Short of it turning out that in fact he's poor, it's hard to see how. But all kinds of revelations about the Clintons could be unhelpful for her.

Second, everyone has already made up their mind about Clinton. She's not gaining new converts. But as the idea of President Trump becomes more familiar to people, more people will come to accept it and perhaps welcome it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [postscript]

A little postscript to this series.

We started with an article by Matthew Parris that put me in mind of some lines from TS Eliot. Neither Eliot nor Parris was born in the UK: Parris in Johannesburg and Eliot in St Louis.

It's notable that the leaders of the Leave campaign were also largely born not only outside the UK but outside the Commonwealth: Boris Johnson (born in New York), Daniel Hannan (Lima, Peru), Gisela Stuart (Velden, Germany). (Stuart came to the UK in 1974 - it seems that it had some attractions even before the EU had much time to work its magic on the UK or to introduce freedom of movement.) Even Michael Gove has crossed Hadrian's Wall, perhaps soon to be an international border.

So, even if we are looking only at the main players in the story of Brexit, we see that there is far more to the UK's global links than the EU. That's not going to change.

Finally, a thought about stereotypes. Eliot came to London and worked in finance. (He worked for Lloyds Bank, an institution founded before the EU was thought of and one that might still be in the business of furthering global trade after the EU has passed away.) He was also a poet and critic, i.e. not the stereotypical banker. We have stereotypes about foreign bankers that do not always fit the facts. I hope Parris' stereotypes about Leave voters are similarly far off the mark.

Monday, 18 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 5]

We are, you will be relieved to hear, coming to the end of this series. You may recall that it started with Matthew Parris telling a story about Brexit being a shocking revelation of an unpleasant national character. I want the story of Brexit to be something much more pleasant and, as I have shown, there is plenty of evidence from which a far more pleasant story can be constructed.

This post, however, deals with something a little different: assuming that I am wrong in everything I have said so far, to what extent should the leaders of the Leave campaign, not themselves xenophobes, feel personally guilty for having ridden a wave of xenophobia? My answer is: not at all. All is explained below.

Friday, 15 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 4] UPDATED

Next question: let's assume that everything I've shown you so far is wrong. Let's assume that people voted Brexit simply to reduce immigration. Does that make them bad people?

In short, no.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 3]

Now to the next question: insofar as immigration mattered in the Brexit vote, was it control over immigration or a reduction in immigration that made the difference? In this post, with the assistance of a dodgy masseur, I will attempt to show that it was control.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 2]

So, following yesterday's introduction, we go to the first question: was it immigration wot won it for Leave? (You will recall that, for the moment, we are leaving aside the question of whether it is 'control over' or 'reduction in' immigration that matters.)

Now, it would of course be idiotic to say that immigration was not a factor. Indeed, it would be hard to disprove the thesis that, in a near 50-50 split, immigration was a crucial factor. But Leave had much more going for it than that, as we shall see.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

How wrong was Leave?

Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”

Those lines from Prufrock came to mind as I was reading this, a piece by Matthew Parris about (what else?) Brexit. What he says is interesting and challenging (I'll tell you more about it below), but the overall flavour is one of disappointment and disgust.

Parris thinks that those who proposed Leave in answer to the "overwhelming question"should now be deep in regret, turning to the window and murmuring that that is not what they meant at all. I am not sure I agree. So I want to tease apart what Parris says and see where he might be mistaken.

Doing that will take a few posts. Before I start, I want to say why this matters. The story of how Brexit happened is likely to be one of those political stories that "everyone knows", even if what everyone knows might not quite be right. Other examples: appeasement was well-intentioned but doomed to fail; 1940 was our Finest Hour; Suez was always a bad idea; going to the IMF in the 1970s was a national embarrassment; Thatcher had to break the power of the unions; Blair should never have gone to war in Iraq. A political culture needs stories like these. Indeed, one of most important things that brings a country together and distinguishes it from its neighbours is a shared understanding, capable of expression in short, 1066-and-all-that stories, of what happened in the past that matters and why it happened. We will need a Brexit story.

But I don't want the story of Brexit to be Parris' story, a story of bad people and useful idiots. I think we have a better story to tell.

Let us go then, you and I ...

Betting success

You might remember my betting failure at the General Election. Some you lose, some you win. Here is a win:


It's all about timing. On 27 June, Boris Johnson was being described as the front-runner, but I knew enough not to put any money on him. (Full disclosure: once it was down to the final two, I put enough money on Leadsom to ensure that I would make a profit in any event, but not enough to make a material dent in my profits.) Now for the Labour leadership contest ...

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Regional GDP per capita disparities in the EU - boring title, fascinating graph

We have been hearing a good deal about our divided country. I thought I'd look up the figures. Here is the link to the ONS' statistical bulletin, but I have copied and pasted the relevant section below, without further comment. Just scroll down to see how much richer London is than the rest of the country - and indeed the rest of the EU.

Monday, 4 July 2016

This guy sounds interesting

"I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. ... For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions."

That's Richard Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. More here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Brexit and social media

1. The social media bubble:

"I am actively searching through Facebook for people celebrating the Brexit leave victory, but the filter bubble is SO strong, and extends SO far into things like Facebook’s custom search that I can’t find anyone who is happy despite the fact that over half the country is clearly jubilant today and despite the fact that I’m *actively* looking to hear what they are saying."

So says Tom Steinberg (who was at school with at least one of my Facebook friends and at university with a whole slew of them. Bubble? what bubble?).

2. This, by a young Londoner, is also well worth reading:

"Meanwhile, a petition is doing the rounds on Facebook, which so far has over one million signatures on it. It asks parliament for a second referendum. People are already getting excited about it, because they think it can change things. // Yet this petition seems to suggest that 17 million Leave votes should be disregarded precisely because they have changed things." And did you know the turnout in Glasgow was only 56%?

3. Slightly lighter stuff here, at the impromptu F*** Brexit rally. It starts:

"As the nation awoke to Nigel Farage welcoming "our independence day" on Friday, the feelings that built up inside the Remain-ers soon exploded like a Mentos-n-Coke experiment of the soul on social media. In one sense, the campaign was definitely over, so beyond furiously retweeting Jonathan Freedland, no one really knew what they should be doing."

So they had a little rally - photos at the link.

4. The Evening Standard's guide to overcoming the social media wars. And just think, you could be Rohan Silva with Steve Hilton kipping (geddit?!) on your sofa: "I’m not going to lie — it got extremely awkward at times. I was worried about the impact that Brexit might have on small businesses such as mine, so it was horribly weird to have a good friend staying in my flat who was playing a massive role in getting Britain to leave the EU. Our staunchly pro-Remain neighbours started referring to Steve as “the enemy within”, which neatly summed up the bizarre situation."

5. Not really social media, but comments from young and youngish people across (the rest of) Europe. Except for the person overly concerned about where they will film Game of Thrones after Brexit, a series of sane and measured comments.

(I have given a couple of links from Vice above. Both of those are what you might think of as less weighty bits of journalism than one finds in mainstream newspapers. But I'm findings Vice a better and better source of proper commentary too. E.g., here's something on Corbyn that is more perceptive and more interesting than, picked at random, this from Tristram Hunt in the Guardian: what about having more council housing? What impact would that have had on the Brexit referendum?)

Saturday, 25 June 2016

First post-Brexit vote thoughts

Well, that was a surprise. We should more faith in polls than bookies, it seems. But I want to address the emotional fallout first. I never spotted any great emotional attachment to the EU in the UK (see Mark Mardell's well-judged piece here) but some nerve has been touched. What nerve? And why?

Personally, I am sad (a) that a lot of EU nationals that I know might feel rejected or hurt by the vote and (b) that the campaign, the vote and the aftermath have revealed a lot of division in this country. I understand (a), but what about (b)? We should have been warned by Scotland that a referendum uncovers a lot of bad feeling, turning family members against each other and so on. But all that means is that I am sad that other people are sad - why are they sad? (More below.)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Nothing to do with Brexit

Time for something completely different.

1. In Conversation with Armando Iannucci About ‘The Armando Iannucci Shows’ and Nothing Else. Exactly what it says on the tin. Includes the complete Hugh and worth it for that alone. Plus Hale and Pace working in a shoe shop.

2. Women-run hedge funds. You need some money in them.

3.  Some videos: JapanKorean breakdancers and how much everyone earns on a blockbuster.

4. Chess. It's quite pretty to watch the computer 'thinking' but it's hard to see what your pieces are.

5. Well-timed photographs. (Not a clickbait-y selection, but proper photos.)

6. An interesting article about China and what has happened to its physical history.

7. An exhaustively-done parody of the New Yorker. Worth a flick-through. It includes adverts, e.g.
Considering how self-aware the New Yorker is, the line between the original and the parody can be pretty thin. This is evident in the cartoons. Two men on a desert island and the caption is “If I were you I’d be very careful before I said something I thought was funny.” Original? Parody? You decide.